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New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Néstor Cortes Jr. vs. Shane McClanahan

The Yankees, masters of their own destiny, try to trim their magic number in the season-ending series opener against Tampa

Texas Rangers v. New York Yankees Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

After teeing off on AL Cy Young contender Robbie Ray last night to seal a series win against Toronto (damaging the latter’s postseason chances), the Yankees can get one step closer to a Wild Card berth tonight against the Rays. With a win and either a Red Sox or Mariners loss, the Bronx Bombers could even clinch their spot by the end of the evening. We’re all Nats and Angels fans tonight.*

*Heck, if the Orioles could continue their upset ways and take out the Blue Jays this weekend as well, we would be much obliged.

Toeing the slab in the boogie down Bronx tonight? Nasty Néstor. The 26-year-old has been an absolute revelation for the 2021 Yankees. Heading into his final regular season start of the season, Cortes has pitched to a 2.85 ERA in 88.1 innings for the Bombers. Tonight is the first time since July 28th that he has faced Tampa. Then, he allowed one run over five innings and struck out five in a 3-1 Yankees victory. I suspect I speak for most Yankees fans when I say, “Please, Néstor. We want some more.”

Meanwhile, the Rays have clinched everything they can. AL East? Check. Home-field advantage throughout the American League playoffs? Check. Despite not having much to play for per se, it is a safe bet that the Rays will not make anything easy on the Yankees. There is a bit of bad blood between these two teams, after all.

The Ray tasked with crushing Yankee dreams tonight? Shane McClanahan, a rookie and Tampa’s 2018 first-round pick. The young lefty has tossed 120.1 innings for Tampa this season to a 10-6 record and a 3.44 ERA. Tonight marks his third game against the Yankees in 2021. His results are a mixed bag. In early June, he surrendered four runs in 3.1 innings. In late July, he allowed three runs over six frames. No complaints shall come from this quarter if tonight resembles his June start.

Shortstop Gio Urshela is the only Yankee who has taken McClanahan deep this season, and given his recent performance at the plate, perhaps he can do it again tonight. While Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have (deservedly) been the recent focus of gaudy Statcast metrics and spilled ink about their performances. Urshela has quietly been raking the past 15 games. In that time, Gio has hit .345 with an .895 OPS, punctuated by three round trippers. While his overall season numbers are down from 2019 and 2020, he has gotten hot at the right time.

The lineup tonight is a little different, as DJ LeMahieu is out after leaving early on Thursday due to hip discomfort. Gleyber Torres is leading off in his place, and Rougned Odor is subbing in at third. Kyle Higashioka is also catching in place of Gary Sánchez; tomorrow is a day game after a night game and manager Aaron Boone decided that he’d rather have Higashoika facing a southpaw than a righty.

Play tonight. Win tonight. Take care of business. Render irrelevant whatever the teams chasing New York in the standings do.

How to watch

Location: Yankee Stadium – Bronx, NY

First pitch: 7:05 pm ET

TV broadcast: YES, Bally Sports Sun, MLBN (out-of-market only)

Radio broadcast: WFAN 660/101.9 FM, WADO 1280

Online stream:

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